‘Protagonists of Social Transformation’ and Saint Mary’s Graduate and Professional Studies Commencement 2024

Guest speaker Brother Ernest Miller FSC, drawing comparisons with John Baptist de La Salle, Dorothy Day, and Dolores Huerta, among others, urged graduates to transform the status quo by “rejecting the norms” of society.

by Mike Janes, Office of Marketing & Communications | May 29, 2024

It was a picture-perfect morning on the Saint Mary’s College campus on May 26, with a hint of dew on the Saint Mary’s Stadium lawn but plenty of sunshine to help warm the crowd as family, friends, and other supporters settled in to cheer on their students at SMC’s 2024 Graduate and Professional Studies Commencement ceremony.

The graduates—360 students who earned certificates, credentials, or advanced degrees, including doctorates—were completing an academic journey similar to the one they had previously experienced as undergraduates. Now, they donned personalized mortarboards, high-fived their classmates, and basked in congratulatory applause from loved ones as newly minted teachers, counselors, writers, dancers, kinesiologists, communicators, and business administrators.

Among those walking the stage were seven members of a brand new cohort at Saint Mary’s: the first-ever group of Gaels to earn a Master of Science in Biotechnology from SMC’s School of Science. They joined graduates of programs in the School of Liberal Arts, School of Economics and Business Administration, and the Kalmanovitz School of Education

MS in Biotechnology cohort 2024
Program pioneers: New SMC biotech scientists (from L to R) Shawn Chere Culpepper MS ’24Kendra Navarro De La Torre MS ’24Thomas Casey Latz MS ’24 (with Honors); Ruben R. Garcia MS ’24 (with Honors); Jian Vincent Hufano Bumatay MS ’24 (with Honors); Doriaun Angoco Calvo MS ’24Nathan Michael Pellegrin MS ’24. / Photo by Bryan Navarro

“We could not have asked for a better first cohort,” said Professor Vidya Chandrasekaran, Program Director for the Professional Science Master's in Biotechnology program. “The students were excited to be the pioneers in our program and navigated the challenges of being in a new program with good cheer and grace. I am grateful to them for providing feedback on the curriculum to ensure it was relevant in the current biotechnology landscape.” 

Daniel McCarthy gives 2024 Invocation
A tip of the cap to supporters: Daniel McCarthy MA ’24 delivers the Invocation and thanks the faculty members, families, friends, and others who helped ease the path for their students. / Photo by Bryan Navarro

A message of gratitude

Daniel McCarthy MA ’24 was this year’s Lasallian Scholar, part of an educator’s program to support Lasallian and Catholic school systems, and he delivered the invocation for the ceremony. He spoke on behalf of his classmates when he thanked God for providing them with the many people who helped make it possible for the graduates to cross the stage and complete their studies.

“Thank you for blessing our families and friends—for each loved one that got here safely today,” he said. “For each time they supported us through our academic journeys, motivated us when things got rough, hung out when we needed a break. Thank you for giving us people who listened and were present, who would reschedule plans so that we could finish our assignments, and who would send us off to class and tell us they were proud.”

In his salutation, Interim President Brother Thomas Jones, FSC, gently called on the new graduates to use their new academic credentials for the common good.

“You carry with you more than just a certificate of completion, more than just a diploma,” he said. “You carry with you an experience of community and belonging that can be gifts to the world. Use these gifts generously and wisely.” 

Looking beyond academic success

Augmenting Brother Thomas’s theme of using one’s academic credential as a tool for making the world a better place, Brother Ernest Miller, FSC, the ceremony’s guest speaker, challenged the students to look beyond the traditional definition of success and follow the lessons learned in the Book of Joshua to become “protagonists of social transformation.” 

“Today’s society is culturally wired toward attaining status and success—academic or material,” said Brother Ernest. “However, I propose to you that success itself is not the end of what is required of us. Beyond the success of what Cornel West calls ‘conspicuous commodity consumption,’ achieving what is significant is our life’s destination.”

Br. Ernest Miller speaks at Commencement
"As we celebrate you, be strong and courageous. Whatever your field of endeavor, whatever your profession, you are called to become protagonists of social transformation." Brother Ernest Miller, FSC, speaks to 360 graduates and an audience of hundreds more at SMC's 2024 Graduate and Professional Studies Commencement ceremony. / Photo by Bryan Navarro

God, Brother Ernest reminded the graduates, instructed Joshua to be strong and courageous not just once, but three times.

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; Be strong and courageous…” he quoted from the book’s first chapter. “Only be strong and courageous…Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

“I propose to you that success itself is not the end of what is required of us. Beyond the success of what Cornel West calls ‘conspicuous commodity consumption,’ achieving what is significant is our life’s destination.”

—Brother Ernest Miller, FSC

He urged the graduates to “transform the current age, to focus success to enable, to empower, to ennoble others to become people who are alive and able to shape a new world.”

Near the end of his speech, Brother Ernest told the graduates, “In this magical moment, energized with expectation and high on hope, we cannot be but sobered by the concrete realities that face our world.” Their dream, he suggested, “is a preferred picture of what the world would look like because of the signature you are gifted to write in this time.”

He challenged the Class of 2024 to “keep the focus on those whose suffering is often rendered invisible—those disenfranchised, impoverished, and disinherited.” Whatever profession the graduates choose, he said, they must demonstrate empathy and courage in order to transform the status quo.

“It is a struggle for the long haul,” he said, “but with God, all things are possible.”

Allie Macaulay posthumous degree
“An extraordinary woman with incredible energy, compassion, unconditional love, and a beautiful soul.” The family of Allie Macaulay, with SMC Interim President Brother Thomas Jones, FSC. / Photo by Bryan Navarro

Honoring Allie Macaulay MA ’24 

At the outset of the Kalmanovitz School of Education graduate introductions, Dean Carol Ann Gittens paused to award a posthumous Master’s in Counseling to Allie Macaulay, who passed away in late December after a courageous battle with cancer. She had been pursuing a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy with the hope of supporting patients in dealing with the realities of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Accepting the degree on her behalf were her parents, Marc and Sandy Macaulay, and her sisters Hannah and Kelsey Macaulay. They were they to honor and show their love for someone who was, as Dean Gittens said, “An extraordinary woman with incredible energy, compassion, unconditional love, and a beautiful soul.”